Landfill Leakage Incidents
The issue of corporate responsibility and accountability for environmental hazards and the impact on the health and well-being of local communities is of vital importance to communities across the country. Although there are existing regulations designed to protect the environment and public health, they are often ignored by large companies who rely on their lobbying of politicians, local and national, and their “war chest” of millions of dollars, to evade prosecution for illegal dumping.
These are just a few of the most significant incidents of damage caused by landfill leakage, also known as leachate:
Love Canal, New York:
In the 1970s, it was discovered that toxic chemicals from a nearby landfill had leached into the groundwater, causing serious health problems for residents.
This incident was one of the first major environmental disasters in the United States, and it brought national attention to the issue of hazardous waste disposal. In the 1940s and 1950s, a chemical company called Hooker Chemicals had disposed of thousands of tons of toxic chemicals in a canal in the city of Niagara Falls, New York.
The area was later developed into a residential neighborhood, and in the 1970s, residents began to report a number of health problems, including birth defects, miscarriages, and cancer. It was discovered that the chemicals landfill leakage had contaminated the groundwater and were being released into the air, posing a serious threat to the health of residents.
The incident brought the issue of hazardous waste disposal to the national attention and increased awareness of the potential dangers of toxic chemicals and the importance of proper waste management. The incident led to the evacuation of over 800 families, and to the creation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, which established a fund to clean up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.
The cleanup of the site took several years and cost millions of dollars.
Ridgefield, New Jersey:
In the 1980s, a landfill containing hazardous waste leaked toxic chemicals into the groundwater, leading to the contamination of nearby wells.
The landfill, which was located near a residential area, had been accepting waste from chemical companies for several years. The toxic chemicals found in the groundwater (from landfill leakage) included cancer-causing compounds such as vinyl chloride, trichloroethene, and tetrachloroethene. These chemicals were known to cause serious health problems such as birth defects, cancer, and neurological damage.
The contamination of the groundwater led to the evacuation of several families, and many residents reported experiencing a range of health problems.
The incident brought attention to the issue of hazardous waste disposal, and the dangers of not properly managing and monitoring these types of sites. It also led to stricter regulations on the disposal of hazardous waste and increased public awareness of the potential risks of living near a landfill.
The Woburn incident occurred in the 1980s and involved a landfill that had contaminated the town’s groundwater with hazardous chemicals. The landfill leakage of toxic chemicals such as trichloroethene and tetrachloroethene, which were known to cause cancer and other serious health problems.
The contamination of the groundwater led to a number of deaths from leukemia and other illnesses among residents of the town.
The incident was the subject of the book and movie “A Civil Action,” which depicted the legal battle between the residents of Woburn and two companies that were found to have contributed to the contamination of the landfill. The incident brought further attention to the issue of hazardous waste disposal and the potential risks of living near a landfill.
The companies involved in the Woburn incident were Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace and Co. They were found to have contributed to the contamination of the landfill.
New Landfill, California:
The incident in New Landfill, California occurred in the 1990s and involved a landfill that leaked methane gas and toxic chemicals into the nearby groundwater. The toxic chemicals found in the groundwater included cancer-causing compounds. The contamination of the groundwater led to health problems for residents living near the landfill and prompted a large-scale cleanup effort.
Like the other incidents, this one also emphasizes the importance of proper waste management and the potential risks of not properly disposing of hazardous materials.
A legal clerk and environmental activist, Erin Brockovich, waged a campaign over many years, aimed at getting a judgement against Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) over groundwater contamination caused by the company’s use of hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, in their natural gas pipeline operations. The residents of Hinkley had been exposed to the toxic chemical, which is a known carcinogen, through the contamination of their groundwater.
The residents struggled for years to get PG&E to take responsibility for the contamination and to hold the company accountable for the health problems that many of the residents suffered as a result of the exposure. Ultimately, they won their legal battle and were awarded a settlement in which PG&E agreed to pay $333 million in damages to the residents of Hinkley.
Parkersburg, West Virginia:
DuPont is an American multinational corporation that has been involved in a number of environmental incidents and controversies throughout its history. One of the most notable incidents involving DuPont is the contamination of the Ohio River and the surrounding area with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) from DuPont’s Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
These chemicals, also known as C8, were used in the production of Teflon and other non-stick coatings. It was found that DuPont had been releasing these chemicals into the air, water, and land around the plant for decades, leading to widespread contamination of the area. The exposure to these chemicals has been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer, birth defects, and developmental disorders.
The incident led to multiple lawsuits against DuPont, and in 2017, the company agreed to pay $671 million to settle 3,500 lawsuits accusing it of not warning residents about the health risks of the chemicals, which were used to make Teflon. DuPont also agreed to pay $335 million to compensate the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the cost of investigating the case and to fund studies on the health effects of the chemicals.
Unfortunately, these types of irresponsible corporate behavior regarding contamination from landfill leakage continue today.